Two days later, when I joined Claire and Rita for a game of hearts in the activity room, Rita pushed a file folder in my direction. Her cheeks were pink and she cleared her throat. “My daughter informs me that if I don’t get your autograph she’s cancelling her Mother’s Day visit.”
Claire was holding in a small I-told-you-so smile.
Inside the file folder was a 1989 CD and a “Candlelight” holiday single. The sleeve was downright beautiful, with a photo of a bunch of candles in the background and the candle logo in the foreground. I slipped the vinyl out of the sleeve and saw the candle image had been cropped onto the label and the vinyl itself was red. “Wow. I’ve never actually seen this before.”
“You haven’t? That surprises me.” Rita handed me a Sharpie.
“It was released while I was out of the country and I found out about it after the fact,” which was close enough to the truth without opening a can of worms. “I’m sure there’s a copy in the office but I’ve never seen it.”
I put the record back into the sleeve and tried to figure out where to sign it where I wasn’t defacing it too badly. I settled for along one corner. For the CD I took the booklet out of the jewel case and signed across the front. “How old’s your daughter?” I asked.
“Oh, she’s almost Claire’s age,” Rita said. I think that comment was meant to take Claire down a peg, but Claire was too happy preening for it to have any effect.
We played hearts until dinner time, and when they went into their communal dining room to eat I went back to the apartment to have some time to myself. What a concept, right? I’d been doing that a bunch since Remo left. You could argue that it was depressing me even more to be so alone and unstimulated but I think it was actually good for me in the long run. I made myself a piece of toast and put all my concentration into buttering it and eating it. It sounds ridiculous, I know, but do you remember what Claire said about recovering from surgery? About how she felt like just handling eating and breathing and other minimum needs for life was plenty to occupy her mind with.
I took the approach that I ought to do the same, even if at this point most of the healing I needed to do was in my spirit and not my body. My heart, mind, soul, whatever you want to call it. Of course there was kind of the question of whether I could heal some of the wounds grief had made on me while there was still one ongoing with fresh blood being let from it every day, but I guess my instinct was to at least try.
Just acknowledging that emotional damage and scar tissue and stuff isn’t just a metaphor but a real thing that I couldn’t just ignore or wish away was probably the most important thing going on for me there.
I know. You think, but if the damage is in your head, why can’t you wish it away? Well, you can, partially. You can let go of stuff. You can forgive people and you can forgive yourself. But if you’ve been walking while carrying a hundred pound weight for so many years that it bent your back, just because the weight is gone doesn’t mean you instantly stand up straight. You have to train yourself back to doing it the right way. And maybe you don’t even remember what it’s like to walk upright, unburdened.
Sometimes I’d have thoughts like that and I’d start to cry right into my toast. And I’d think to myself is this depression or is this healing?
And then I’d think you know what, Ziggy was right again: it’s both. The realization is you healing. The tears are literally grief oozing out of you. That you feel sad about the thought instead of relieved is the depression. The human mind is really not an either/or kind of thing.
Janine came for Mother’s Day and brought Landon to see his grandmother. I do not feel the least bit guilty about the fact that the person he was the most excited to see was me, though. Nor the fact that while the “ladies” (including Rita) were talking, that I helped him to find construction paper, scissors, and glue that could be found in the activity room to make Janine a crown of paper flowers to wear. He didn’t stop there, though. He made one for Claire, too, and then made crowns for himself and me to wear that were made from “leaves” (football-shaped pieces of green construction paper).
“Are we wearing leaves because we’re boys?” I asked, after he’d put it solemnly on my head.
He whispered the answer conspiratorially. “Because we’re the Roman legion.”
“Now let’s give flowers to our mommies.” He handed me one of the flower crowns. Janine and Claire seemed a bit reluctant at first to wear them but neither one wanted to be the first to object so in the end they put them on. Janine did convince him that we should all leave our flower crowns behind when we went to church, though, “so they won’t get smushed.”
Courtney called to say Happy Mother’s Day and then after talking to Claire for a while got on the phone with me. Claire wandered out of her room while I was talking to her. “So I talked to them about whether Claire is well enough to take the trip to see my graduation. They seem to think that she is, as long as we don’t overtax her, make sure she stays hydrated, yadda yadda.”
“Oh, that’s good,” I said. “How’s it going to work getting her there and back?”
“You’re flying. The only question is whether she’s staying at your sublet or at the Allston house. I think she’d be better off at the sublet. You still have the place, right?”
“Until the end of the month, yeah. And I need to pack up stuff to get us out of there anyway, so this is actually great timing.”
“So you think she’ll be all right there?”
“She’ll have to climb stairs, but that’d be true in Allston, too.”
“Cool. Then I’m going to have a party at the Allston house. Probably best if Mom isn’t there. You know how Allston parties can get.”
Indeed I did. The Roman legions would be proud.
“Okay. I’ll book the tickets and Fedex them to you. Carynne’s going to come, too. To graduation I mean. I only have four tickets. It’s like… people are scalping them they’re in such demand.”
I was about to make a joke about skipping it and letting her pocket the money for selling my ticket when I decided maybe that would be in poor taste. “I’m glad it’s going to work out. Your graduation is the one thing Claire has been looking forward to.”
“Really. Like, if she has a bad episode she cries and is like ‘I just want to live long enough to see your baby sister graduate.'”
“I know that must be what she says because you would never call me your ‘baby’ sister.”
“Of course.” Okay, I probably did call her that sometimes without realizing it, but mostly I tried to avoid it. “So what do you want for a graduation gift?”
“I could really use a new computer. The one you’ve got in the basement is on its last legs.”
“Okay, but if you’re going to actually do this next-level fan club thing you’re talking about, that should be a business expense. What do you want for you?”
“Hm, dunno. Let me think about it. Hey, put Mom back on the phone.”
“Okay, let me find her.” I set the phone down on the nightstand and went to locate Claire.
I was half-expecting her to be right there in the hallway, eavesdropping. But she wasn’t.
I found her in the activity room at the piano with Landon on her lap, placing his hands onto the keys. The piano was pretty badly out of tune but he was delightedly making sounds come out of it while she pressed the pedals with her feet. He squealed as she pressed the sustain and then hit a low note out of his reach. I saw her stiffen at the squeal, but she didn’t slap him or anything.
He quickly got more excited than she could handle, though, even though she admonished him to press the keys gently. I swooped in to rescue them both from each other. “Claire, the phone is for you. Landon–”
“I had a piano lesson!” he said, leaping into my arms with great abandon. “It was fun!”
I had to laugh. I mean, really, there was no other reaction I could have. I caught my nephew in midair and we both laughed ourselves silly.
I feel like I’m holding my breath, waiting for Claire’s health to suddenly decline, but grateful you took the opportunity to connect with her before its too late. You are a better son than she deserves after doing all she could to sabotage your career. I think even her pride in you she sees as a refection on her.
I’m sure it’s all about how my success or talent reflects on her, but I’ll take it, you know?